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Five common mistakes parents make with their child's education

All parents want the best for their children. That’s certainly true when it comes to their children’s education. However, good intentions sometimes lead to decisions or actions that negatively impact a child’s learning. I will share with you the five most common mistakes parents make when it comes to their children’s education.

With all the pressures that come with parenting — not to mention balancing that with work, life, and other commitments—it’s understandable why parents may make certain decisions or do things that they think will help their children. I’m hoping, though, that after reading this article you will be able to avoid these common mistakes when it comes to your child’s education.

#1. Focusing on Name Brand

We have all heard those parents and kids who say they want to go to this school or that school because it’s “the best” or it’s “number one.” We know what schools or universities about which they are talking. Yes, these schools are great and they have built up strong brand names for themselves.. There is no such thing as the best school. Rather, there is only the best school for your child. In other words, it’s not the best school, but the right school.

it’s not the best school, but the right school

However, no matter how much I say this, I can appreciate the pressure that some feel in focusing on the brand name of a school. They believe that the “best” school increases their child’s chances of landing that amazing job, making a lot of money, or being successful later on in life. There is some truth to that, but that’s not the entire picture. Just because some students do well at these name-brand schools does not mean that they’re the right schools for your child. There is no one size fits all. Also, these types of schools are by no means a guarantee to future success. I recount a story told to me by one of my fellow cofounders of my admissions strategy and learning enrichment company. He holds a bachelor’s from Harvard and a master’s from Oxford – an impressive academic pedigree by most accounts. However, he was telling me that a number of his Harvard schoolmates are currently either underemployed or are working as baristas at coffee shops. Also, he was saying that a majority of those in his MBA program at Oxford did not come from name-brand undergraduate programs.

Here’s another fact: a great kid will do well anywhere. Some of the brightest students I’ve met have come from public school. They’re great – and I’m every bit confident they will succeed in life – despite not going to a name-brand school. Going back to my original point, the best school is the one that is the right fit for your child. It’s the place where he or she is happiest and is excited about learning. So, rather than solely focus on the brand name, find the schools that match your child’s learning style and interests. Make sure that there are the academic, athletic, artistic, and co-curricular programs and services that will support your child’s needs.

find the schools that match your child’s learning style and interests

Whichever school has the best program suited to your child is the best school, period. Let me share another story about one of my other fellow cofounders of my company. When choosing his MBA program, he had to decide between offers of admissions from both the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. To his mother’s chagrin, he turned down the offer from the Ivy League school to attend Sauder. However, as he will be the first to point out, he chose the better program that fit his academic and professional interests.

#2. Focusing too much on academics

How many times have we heard some parents say that grades, marks, and scores are the most important things? They believe that grades and scores are the measures of success or ability of a student. So these parents pack on the academics and expect their children to achieve the highest possible scores. This is where I think back to a time in high school when one of my teachers said something that has stuck with me since: the world is run by B+ students. What did he mean by this statement? Think about all the well-known people in the world from business to politics. They’re not the A+ type, so then what do they have that makes them so successful? Simply put, it’s their interpersonal skills.

In today’s increasingly competitive and rapidly changing world, those who succeed are the ones who have strong people skills, know how to relate to others, and are able to develop strong personal and professional networks. In other words, EQ (Emotional Quotient) is more important than IQ (Intelligence Quotient). Some kids might be brilliant, but they lack the social or interpersonal skills that are so necessary in today’s world. If your child is a poor communicator or is unable to collaborate with others, does it really matter how bright he or she is? Employers, and highly competitive schools for that matter, want those who are multidimensional, deep, and interesting. Kids who have nothing else but a stellar academic record and high test scores are actually not all that remarkable.

When I used to chair Cornell University’s alumni admissions committee for British Columbia, I would interview many students who had top marks and scores but who would come across as one-dimensional and (dare I say it) rather boring. Other than their academic achievement there was very little that made them stand out or interesting. I would tell students, especially the ones who focused mostly on academics, that about 30-40% of their time in university should actually be spent on studying. The other 60-70% of their time should have focused on discovering who they really were, getting a part-time job so they appreciated the value of money and hard work, finding what they were truly passionate about, and networking with as many contacts as possible who would serve them well in the future.

I’m not suggesting that academics aren’t important and that it’s okay for your child to not give his or her best when it comes to studying. Rather, my advice to you is to ensure your child has a manageable balance between academics and his or her other activities whether that’s sports, art, community service, leadership, extracurriculars, or a part-time job. Also, it’s crucial for your child to develop his or her abilities to be a team player and to get along well with others, because when he or she enters the job market those skills will not only be in demand but also expected by employers.

#3. Micromanaging a child’s time

I think some children have busier schedules than us adults. Take for example when I used to work at St. George’s School, some parents would send in application binders over an inch thick with all the accomplishments and lists of activities of their sons – children who were only five or six years old! Having been in my late twenties, those binders put my one-page resume to shame! The parents of some of my students are basically chauffeurs driving their kids from one activity to the next between the time they are done school and the time they go to bed. I was recently looking at one elementary student’s schedule and every day including Saturday and Sunday is fully booked with activities and homework. It may seem obvious, but kids need to be kids. Downtime and play are just as important as their planned activities.

And micromanaging isn’t confined to just young kids. High school students, especially those applying to highly competitive universities, face similar pressures to pack their schedules full without enough time to relax, recharge, and refocus. They need to play a musical instrument, do some sort of visual art, be on a couple of sports teams, complete their community service hours, join five clubs, hold three leadership positions, take 10 Advanced Placement courses, and study for the SAT.  And all because they need to – or more accurately their parents expect them to – get into the “best” university. A very few kids are able to handle such pressure and actually succeed. For most others two things will happen: i) they will end up imploding and burning out or ii) they will become such programmed robots that they’ll be devoid of personality and passion. Either scenario isn’t pleasant and ends up only hurting the student. To illustrate, during one interview I had with a Grade 12 student who was applying to Cornell, I asked him what he did for fun. An odd look came over his face and he asked me to repeat my question. What do you do for fun? He continued to look puzzled. “What do you mean, fun?” he asked. He went on to say that he didn’t have any fun because his parents made him focus solely on his university applications. I think you can pretty much imagine what type of recommendation I provided him to Cornell.

So, yes, it’s important that your child is engaged in a variety of activities but you need to ensure that his or her life is balanced with enough time to actually enjoy life. And I’m speaking as someone who has been an interviewer at both a top-tier private school and highly selective university – these types of schools want real kids, interesting kids, passionate kids. They don’t want kids who are overly programmed or so tightly wound up. Guess what, it’s not only okay for your child to have fun, but also it’s vital to his or her happiness and success.

#4. Being a helicopter parent

I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “helicopter parent,” referring to those who constantly hover above their children and swoop down the moment they’re in trouble, solve problems for them, and then swoop back up and continue hovering. In other words, these are the overly protective types who are there to hold their children’s hands, in some cases even into the job market. There are stories of parents who have actually accompanied their children into job interviews! I have yet to hear of such a case where the child received an offer of employment, but if you know of one please let me know!

Some parents are so afraid to see their children fail that they’ll do anything to prevent their children from experiencing hardship or pain. At the private school at which I used to work, I witnessed parents carrying their children’s bags to and from school. I also saw parents drop off lunch for their child during the lunch break, sit there and watch him eat it, and then take back the empty dishes. Well, if only real life were that way. What ends up happening is that these parents, through their coddling, aren’t setting their children up for success. Moreover, they aren’t providing a realistic worldview for their children.

You do your child no favours by not letting him or her take ownership of his or her life and learn from his or her mistakes. Your child will fail at certain things and he or she will make mistakes. That’s not just okay, but those mistakes and failures will be valuable life lessons as he or she grows up, hopefully into an independent and successful individual. Your kid will fall of his or her bike and get a scraped knee. Let him or her cry, get back up, and continue riding.

#5. Living through the child

I can only imagine the pressure some children face from the expectations placed on them by their parents. Their career paths seem already chosen for them: they will be a doctor, lawyer, or investment banker. Well, no, they will be whatever they want to be.

I think it’s great if you have high hopes for your child, but at the end of the day, it’s your child’s life for him or her to live. Your role as a parent is to support your child in the discovery of his or her passions and interests. With your guidance, it’s up to your child to fulfill his or her potential. As the son of a businessman and an elementary school teacher, I know my father doesn’t entirely support my career choice. He would have preferred to see me as an investment banker or management consultant. However, my mother on the other hand, has done nothing but encouraged me to follow my passion and I’m happy to say that I’m doing what I truly love – that is guiding families as they make the most important decisions for their children and help them build their legacies.

Laying the foundations for success

You love your child and want the best for him or her. Allowing your child to be an active participant in his or her growth is one of the most important gifts that you as a parent can give. After all, what you want and need to do is to help lay the foundations so that your child can build his or her life and be happy and satisfied while doing so. Avoiding the common mistakes that a number of parents make is one of the keys to your child’s success.

Bryan Ide is Education Director, Principal of KEY Enrichment Centre. He graduated from St. George’s School and holds a BA from Cornell University and an MA from Columbia University. He has spent most of his professional life in the field of education, having worked in institutional advancement for both St. George’s School and the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. Also, he is the past chair of the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network Committee for British Columbia.

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